With Ronnie Brown set to return for Sunday's game at New England, Dolphins coach Nick Saban is expected to return to the two-tailback system he has used throughout the season despite Ricky Williams' 172-yard outing in last Saturday's 24-10 victory over Tennessee.
"We are going to try to feature the best players that we have," Saban said Thursday. "As I have said many times before, running back is a two-starter position. It is a difficult circumstance to get through the year with one guy."
Brown started the first 14 games of the season before missing the Titans game with an ankle injury. That opened the door for Williams, who missed the first four games while serving a drug suspension, to enjoy season highs in carries (27) and rushing yardage.
Brown has logged 20 carries in just three games this season but still appears to be showing fatigue from his first NFL season. Brown averaged 4.8 yards a carry in his first 10 games but was limited to just a 3.3-yard average on 47 attempts in his last four outings.
Conversely, Williams has gotten stronger as the season has unfolded. Williams has rushed for 481 yards and four touchdowns in his last 91 carries, which translates to an average of 5.3 yards.
"With younger guys, the first time they go through this many games and this many preparations, it's physically demanding on every player, but emotionally and mentally, the young guys have to stay focused on hanging in there," said Saban, who selected Brown with the No. 2 overall pick in last April's draft. "They are not used to this. The experience of doing it is certainly something that can help (in the future)."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said it has been business as usual this week, even though the real business won't start until the wild-card playoffs the weekend of Jan. 7-8.
The Patriots (10-5) host the Dolphins (8-7) on Sunday in the regular-season finale. AFC East champs for a third straight year, the Patriots can earn the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs if they beat Miami and Kansas City defeats AFC North champion Cincinnati at home. However, the Patriots won't have a first-round bye, so the difference between being the 3 or 4 seed doesn't appear to be crucial.
With that in mind, the Patriots could give their starters some rest against the Dolphins. Unlike other playoff-bound teams that already have announced their plans for playing time this weekend, the Patriots have been mum on the subject.
"I have no idea," linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said when asked how much he expected to play against Miami. "You would have to speak with Bill about that. That's the obvious answer. I don't know why you guys continue to ask those questions. We have no control over what's going to happen. I would expect to play. I would expect to play the entire game. And if I don't, then I don't."
Said Brady: "I'd just like to beat Miami. That's all I care about. Try to beat the Dolphins and finish off the season the way we'd like to and then we'll figure it out from there. ... I always love to play. I love taking the snaps. I love being out there, leading the troops out on the field. If it's my choice, I know what I'd be doing. It's up to coach Belichick."
Brady has thrown for a career-high 4,073 yards. He is 13 yards away from Drew Bledsoe's 1996 total of 4,086 yards, which stands as the second-best single-season mark in franchise history. Bledsoe holds the top spot with an unreachable (or so it would seem) 4,555 yards, set in 1994.
With 23 touchdown passes, Brady is five shy of tying his career high from 2002 and 2004. He is on pace for the best passer rating (93.0) of his career. He has completed 63.4 percent of his attempts, putting him within reach of his career-best mark of 63.9 from 2001.